Monday morning quarterback:
• WHAT A GAME, PART I — When you’ve covered high school football for 41 years, all the games sometimes run together and become a blur.
But ever so often a game comes along that will forever stick in your mind.
I had the opportunity to cover the Class 3A state championship game on Saturday in Hutchinson as Hesston attempted to deny Rossville a 3-peat.
In what has to be one of the Top 5 high school games I’ve ever covered, Rossville outlasted Hesston 48-42 in overtime after the Swathers had massaged a narrow lead most of the day.
In fact, Rossville’s only other lead in the game was 7-6 in the first quarter. Hesston led by as many as 15 points early in the second half.
Having covered 4A Division I football all year, I wasn’t sure just how much different 3A would be.
But I can tell you without hesitation these two teams would beat a majority of Class 4A teams.
Both offenses featured a lot of diversity and some incredible playmakers. For Hesston, Zach Esau reminded me of a swashbuckling gunslinger, as he winged it for 238 yards and a couple of scores. He also ran for 106 yards and two scores, while finding time to make 16 tackles on defense in his final Hesston game.
Also for the Swathers, sophomore Parker Roth had 135 yards rushing and I have a feeling he’ll make the 200-yard rushing game commonplace next year. Zach Vogt was another dynamic player with 4 catches for 107 yards while making 15 tackles on defense. Cameron Cox, the heir apparent to Esau at quarterback, had 9 catches for 124 yards. Linebacker Zach Anderson was all over the field with 17 tackles.
For Rossville, I admired the play of quarterback Jacob Bradshaw. Only 169 pounds, he time and again absorbed big hits, yet rushed 40 times for 275 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. Like Esau, he got no breaks as he was a starting corner on defense.
My heart really hurt for Hesston coach Clint Rider and his team after the game. It tried mightily to hang on to its various leads, but credit Bradshaw as the kid made some incredible plays.
This wasn’t the best high school game I’ve ever covered — that vote still goes to McPherson High and Gardner-Edgerton when Bubba Starling led his team to a 49-42 victory — but this is one I won’t forget.
• WHAT A GAME, PART II — I didn't cover the Kansas City-Denver game in person, but it certainly is one of the best I've watched in quite some time.
It was a defensive slugfest and offensive explosion all rolled into one package.
The defenses dominated for three quarters, but Denver broke the seal in the fourth quarter as Trevor Siemian turned the flummoxed Phillip Gaines into toast.
The Chiefs appeared to be toast as well when they were down 24-16 late in the fourth quarter, but Alex Smith woke up from his slumber to direct the game-tying drive, something he hasn't done that much of during his tenure.
He also directed the tying drive in overtime and the game-winner, thanks to a head-scratching decision by Denver coach Gary Kubiak, who elected to try for a 62-yard field goal to win the game. I know all about the altitude, but surely Kubiak had to know the ramifications if his kicker missed, giving the Chiefs the ball almost at midfield with plenty to time to navigate a short distance to set up a game-winner.
Cairo Santos' bank shot wasn't a thing of beauty, but it gave the Chiefs an 8-3 record and 3-0 mark against the AFC West, the most important of the tie-breakers. And the Chiefs still get Denver and Oakland at home, which perhaps gives them the inside track in the AFC West, though the pesky Raiders continue to find ways to get it done as they're 9-2.
This is a good Chiefs team, but not great because of all the injuries. It gives up a lot of passing yards and Smith is experiencing a down year statistically. But you can't measure the team's heart as it's won three games it probably had no business winning.
• KU GIVES GOOD ACCOUNT — The Kansas Jayhawks easily covered the spread on Saturday in a 34-19 loss to in-state rival Kansas State, which was a 27-point favorite.
Give the Jayhawks and coach David Beaty a lot of credit. After a pick-6 by Donnie Starks, the ‘Cats led 20-3 in the second quarter and were on the verge of making it the usual laugher.
It helped KU that Wildcat quarterback Jesse Ertz was knocked out early in the third quarter as he was running unabated through the defense. He was on his way to a 200-yard rushing day behind the physically superior offensive line. Pittsburg High grad Alex Barnes was a runaway freight train, averaging 10 yards a carry, but touched it only 10 times.
The game proves, though, KU still has a long way to go to catch up with its in-state brethren. The most glaring difference is the offensive line, where KU is not nearly as big or athletic as it's terribly undersized. The Jayhawks did total a surprising 403 yards, but 95 of those came on one play. KU quarterback Carter Stanley probably will be in an ice bath for 2 days because of the beating he took.
While the outcome was no surprise, at least KU did make it more competitive than recent years.